The record-setting crowd of 52,530 came to see a show Saturday night in KU's season opener against Northern Colorado at Memorial Stadium. More specifically, they envisioned an aerial show. After all, this was a Kansas football team which set a school passing yardage average record (305.62 yards per game) last season and returned its No. 1 quarterback in Todd Reesing and top four receivers in Kerry Meier, Dezmon Briscoe, Jonathan Wilson and Jake Sharp.
As it turned out, KU put on a show in its 49-3 victory over the Bears.
But it was a running show that rocked Memorial Stadium as Kansas
amassed 328 rushing yards, its most since 2001.
Northern Colorado played the pass, so KU made the Bears pay with a
field day on the ground. Sharp led Kansas with 123 rushing yards, while
Reesing and freshman running back Tobun Opurum each had 79 rushing
yards. Heck, even redshirt freshman quarterback Kale Pick showed his
stuff late in the fourth quarter with 47 rushing yards.
While the competition will get stiffer the rest of the way, KU made a
statement Saturday night it can win big when Reesing only attempts 20
passes a game. (He completed 12 for 208 yards and two touchdowns while
also rushing for two more TDs.) If you take away the pass, the Jayhawks
won't hesitate to beat you with their rushing game.
"We can run the ball," KU coach Mark Mangino said. "We'll do what we
got to do. We'll go through our tailback and we can do it through our
Sharp and Reesing are two of the best in the Big 12 and country. Sharp
didn't get untracked last year until conference season began against
Iowa State, but now he's running unleashed from the get-go and poised
for a banner season. And then there's Reesing, a unique breed
who wowed the Bears with his passing and running ability out of the
"We just don't have an answer to a quarterback that can sit back there
and throw," UNC head coach Scott Downing said. "Then when he takes off,
he can either run it or keep it alive. He's back there running around
like a greased pig and you can't get him down."
No, they couldn't.
"Todd Reesing took over the game and showed why he's one of the better
quarterbacks in the nation," Bears' quarterback Bryan Waggener said. "I
feel like he's just a playmaker out there. He's just real scrappy and
knows how to get it done and finds ways to make plays all the time."
Opurum certainly made plays Saturday night, showing great promise as a
future star. He's been compared to Brandon McAnderson, who rushed for
over 1,000 yards his senior year in 2007. But McAnderson didn't become
a threat until that season; he was primarily a blocking back his first
three years. While it was against a relatively weak team, Opurum busted
loose for 78 yards in his first college game, and all in the final
eight minutes with an average of 9.9 yards per carry. With his
bruising, speedy downfield running, he can become the perfect
complement to Sharp's shifty and elusive game.
Opurum, for one, wasn't shocked over KU's success on the ground
"I think we prepared ourselves all week to be able to air the ball out
and run the ball," Opurum said. "The fact that it worked out in the
game is no surprise. We took care of it in practice, so it showed out
in the field."
The offensive line did their part by opening holes in the run game.
"It's really encouraging, looking to see how many rushing yards you
have in the game," offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson said. "Looking at
the different sets they had, we knew coming in to the game that they'd
come in with three down linemen. We had to create some seams and get to
the linebacker, and get them blocked."
Of course, KU isn't going to average 328 rushing yards per game this
season. But with the firepower they showed on the ground Saturday
night, look for Kansas to significantly better the 126.8 yards rushing
average per game of last season. Heck, KU didn't have a player rush for
100 yards in a game in 2008 until the sixth week of the season against
Colorado, when Sharp ran for 118 yards.
In KU's season opener Saturday, the Jayhawks almost had three players
rush for over 100 yards. That's progress. That's a statement about an
improved running game which will be a storyline all season.
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